US court bars ex­e­cu­tion of 11 death row in­mates


Three years af­ter Con­necti­cut abol­ished the death penalty for any fu­ture crimes, the state’s high­est court on Thurs­day spared the lives of the state’s 11 re­main­ing death- row in­mates say­ing it would be un­con­sti­tu­tional to ex­e­cute them.

Within min­utes, a lawyer with the Chief Public De­fender’s of­fice said he was get­ting on the phone with his of­fice’s clients to share the news.

“There will be no more death row,” said Michael Court­ney, the leader of the of­fice’s cap­i­tal de­fense unit.

The rul­ing comes in an ap­peal from a 12th in­mate, Ed­uardo San­ti­ago, whose at­tor­neys had ar­gued that any ex­e­cu­tion car­ried out af­ter the 2012 re­peal would con­sti­tute cruel and un­usual pun­ish­ment. San­ti­ago, whose first sen­tence was over­turned, faced a sec­ond penalty hear­ing and the pos­si­bil­ity of lethal in­jec­tion for a 2000 mur­der-for-hire killing in West Hart­ford.

The Con­necti­cut Supreme Court, in a sharply di­vided 4-3 rul­ing, agreed with his po­si­tion, rul­ing that the death penalty “no longer com­ports with con­tem­po­rary stan­dards of de­cency and no longer serves any le­git­i­mate peno­log­i­cal pur­pose.”

“For these rea­sons, ex­e­cu­tion of those of­fend­ers who com­mit­ted cap­i­tal felonies prior to April 25, 2012, would vi­o­late the state con­sti­tu­tional pro­hi­bi­tion against cruel and un­usual pun­ish­ment,” Jus­tice Richard Palmer wrote for the ma­jor­ity.

Those in­mates in­clude Joshua Komis­ar­jevsky and Steven Hayes, who were sen­tenced to die for killing a mother and her two daugh­ters in a highly pub­li­cized 2007 home in­va­sion in Cheshire.

The 2012 re­peal, which set life in prison with­out the pos­si­bil­ity of re­lease as the pun­ish­ment for crimes for­merly con­sid­ered cap­i­tal of­fenses, was passed prospec­tively by law­mak­ers amid public out­rage over the prospect that Komis­ar­jevsky and Hayes might be spared ex­e­cu­tion.

In his rul­ing, Palmer wrote that it would not be per­mis­si­ble to ex­e­cute other con­victs “merely to achieve the po­lit­i­cally pop­u­lar end of killing two es­pe­cially no­to­ri­ous in­mates.”

Con­necti­cut has had just one ex­e­cu­tion since 1960. Se­rial killer Michael Ross was put to death in 2005 af­ter win­ning a le­gal fight to end his ap­peals.

Demo­cratic Gov. Dan­nel P. Mal­loy is­sued a state­ment Thurs­day say­ing those who have been on death row will spend the rest of their lives in state pris­ons with no pos­si­bil­ity of free­dom.

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